Ziony Zevit, «Three Debates about Bible and Archaeology», Vol. 83 (2002) 1-27
Three significant debates affecting perceptions of Israelite history, the Bible’s historiography, the relationship between this historiography and archaeology, and the dating of parts of the Bible’s literature have occupied Biblicists and archaeologists for the last 25 years. This article distinguishes the debates by analyzing the issues involved, the terminologies employed, as well as the professions of the protagonists engaged in each. It considers each within its own intellectual context. In light of these analyses, the article proposes a positive assessment of the contribution of these debates to the study ancient Israel’s history.
concerns, and civil organizations such as law, courts, army, etc. The significance of this archaeology was to set forth the objective distinctiveness of Israel as a witness to revelation, but ‘the method of description must be historical in keeping with the historical character of Biblical revelation’5.
In 1896, Lansing published a slim book, Outlines of the Archaeology of the Old Testament in which he listed archaeology as a branch of exegetical theology. He wrote: ‘Biblical Archaeology is the science of sacred things as over against sacred words’ (emphasis in the original). The ‘things’ included the same subjects treated by Keil along with the antiquities of other nations ‘so far as these have any direct bearing on any passage of Scripture’6. In this volume, the direct connection between ‘thing’ and exegesis is emphasized, history in general left somewhat aside.
Even as the first volume of Jahn’s first German edition was being published, other European scholars were engaged in activities about to expand the meaning of ‘archaeology’. In 1801, E. Clark set out to travel in the Holy Land in order to discover ancient cities and holy sites. He was followed by U.J. Seetzen in 1802, J.L. Burckhardt in 1809, and a host of others. The most famous of these, E. Robinson, Professor of Bible at Union Theological Seminary in New York, first traveled there in 1839.
Basing himself on geographical lists and casual references to places in the Bible, blessed with a gifted ear for discerning ancient Hebrew and Greek place names in local Arabic guise, and possessed of a fine sense of topography, Robinson, travelling with his former student Eli Smith, an Arabic-speaking missionary, discovered, recorded, and mapped hundreds of sites, many uninhabited for more than 2000 years. His literate, engaging three volume book published in 1841, Biblical Researches in Palestine, the Sinai, Petrae and Adjacent Regions became a widely read best-seller7. Robinson demonstrated the possibility of identifying many of the sites mentioned in the Bible,